Going and Coming

For all they knew, it could have been a fool’s errand. They had come to the merciful Master for healing and now He tells them to go to the hard-hearted clerics for inspection. No touch of His hand. No declaration from His lips, “Be clean!” No change in the condition of their skin. Just His instruction to these ten lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

But go they did. Unsure of what they would show the priests. With no indicator, other than the implication of the Master’s command, that they would have something other than their defiled, diseased skin to display to those versed in judging uncleanness. How many went with any level of conviction of faith, and how many fell in line because everyone else was doing it, we don’t know. But here’s what we do know:

And as they went they were cleansed.

(Luke 17:14b ESV)

That’s what caught my attention this morning. It’s “while they were going” (CSB) that they were made new. “While they were still on their way” (MSG) that healing came. That “it came to pass, in their going,” (YLT) that they encountered a life-changing dynamic.

These ten lepers were healed in the act of obedience. Something about, “He said it, so I’ll do it,” that released the power of heaven on earth. Something about going without fully knowing that ended up changing their lives forever.

And in my own cleansing process, in my own sanctification, how much of it comes about as a result of my going? What miracles occur when I venture out while still uncertain of how I might be received? What power is unleashed when, having not yet seen the full fruit of His transforming work, I faithfully present myself as a follower of Christ just because He told me too?

That’s what I’m chewing on. How much of our healing happens just because we do what Jesus tells us to do? Whether we feel the touch of His hand, or not? Whether we’ve seen the change in our lives that we think we should see, or not? How much of becoming what Jesus redeemed us to become is a result of being what Jesus has asked us to be? Regardless of whether we think we’re ready or not. Despite the fear that we might be on a fool’s errand.

But you can’t read of the going of the ten without also chewing a bit on the coming back of the one.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. . . . And [Jesus] said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

(Luke 17:15-16, 19 ESV)

The nine went and experienced the outwardly transforming power of God. But one, a Samaritan leper–considered unclean not only on the outside but on the inside as well–returned and also experienced the inwardly transforming praise of God.

“Your faith has made you well.”

Nine met the Master, only one marveled. Nine went, but only one worshiped.

And the healing for that one was far beyond just being skin deep. It penetrated to soul and spirit. Not only was he now fit to stand before a mere priest among men, but the depth of his cleansing qualified him to enter the presence of God Himself.  The Father delighting in this adopted son’s praise.  Watching intently as His only begotten Son was exalted through this blood-bought servant’s worship.

What work of God occurs in us through our going and though our coming?

What work of the Spirit is accomplished through our testing and our thanksgiving? Through our obedience and our worship?

More than we realize, I’m guessing.

But all by His grace. And only for His glory.

Amen?

Posted in Luke | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Do Not Be Afraid . . . Remember the Lord . . . and Fight!

Earlier this week, I was talking to a young friend you has been going through a crisis of faith over the last few years and is kind of wound tight now as she quickly approaches a season of change and instability. “I’m kind of really scared,” she confided. Assured her I had her back and, not to get all religious on her, that I believed God did to. I then shared with her what’s become my life verse since 2003:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.

(Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Her response was insightful: “I don’t know, it’s hard to just let go and let God.”

Hmmm. Is that what trusting in the LORD with all your heart is? Letting go and letting God? Wouldn’t seem so from my reading in Nehemiah this morning.

The wall around Jerusalem is being re-built. The people of God are encouraged as they do the work of God. And where that happens, opposition is inevitable.

What had started merely as mocking and jeering (2:19, 4:1-3) by those who were “displeased . . . greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel” (2:10), turned to the threat of overt physical confrontation as the enemies of Israel “plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (4:8).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . .

And so the people prayed.

But they didn’t stop there.

And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

(Nehemiah 4:9 ESV)

They prayed, and they also set up a guard. The sought the Lord, and they secured the city. The believed God would prosper the work, and they prepared for war. They had faith, and they were ready to fight.

And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

(Nehemiah 4:14 ESV)

Do not be afraid . . . Remember the Lord . . . and fight! Very different than, “Let go and let God.”

Reminded this morning that, in the fray, while we must look to the Lord, He would also have us put on the armor and prepare to do battle (Eph. 6:11-13).

Nehemiah prayed and he set a guard. Half the people worked with the stones, and half carried the spear. Those who brought materials to the wall were loaded up so that they could carry rocks in one hand and their weapon in the other. Those who built the walls did so with their sword strapped to their side. The trumpet was ready to be blown to rally the workers to the wherever a battle might break out, but they also trusted that “our God will fight for us” (4:16-20).

We are to fight the good fight (1Tim. 6:12). In the difficulties of life, in the seasons of suffering, we are to engage as good soldiers of Christ (2Tim. 2:3-4). We do our part. Even as we acknowledge Him in all our ways.

Not that God needs us to win the battle. But He allows us to be on the front lines, while He supports us with air cover, so that we might learn to trust in Him. So that we might have opportunity to see Him fight for us. So that, when we’ve done all that we can do, we might know we are more than conquerors only because of the One who loves for us (Rom. 8:37-39).

Do not be afraid. Remember the Lord. And fight.

By His grace. For His glory.

Posted in Nehemiah | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting a Grip on Age Enduring Life

I wonder how often we’re prone to think of eternal life as a future “to do.” That it’s something that starts after death. That it’s something we’ll have to wait to experience. Something we’ll figure out how to do later. But if I’m picking up what Paul’s laying down this morning, I’m reminded that there’s actually a lot we can do here and now to not only prepare for, but to also enjoy now, the there and then.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

(1Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)

As has so often been pointed out, for most of us living in this land, and particularly in this region, we would have to be considered “the rich in this present age.” Thus, this exhortation if for us.

And so, to me, Paul says, don’t be boasting about your riches and, don’t be betting your future on them, either. Instead, enjoy them. And know, in abundance, that aspect of joy that comes from giving away those riches.

Leverage your money to do good, says Paul. Be generous. Be ready to share the wealth . . . literally! Look for the opportunities to convert your material riches into good works riches. Because when you do, your taking the transient material goods of this age and storing up treasure for yourself for a future age.

What’s more–and here’s the thing that’s grabbed me this morning–in the act of doing that conversion, by being generous and willing to share now, you’re actually taking hold of that which is “truly life.”

That original word translated “truly life” in the ESV and NIV is translated a number of different ways in the other versions of the Bible. Life indeed (NASB). Life that is real (CSB). Eternal life (NKJV). But Young’s Literal Translation really hits home for me, “life age-enduring.”

Using our wealth, whatever it is, to invest in good works, to liberally give to, and readily share with others, is to seize upon life that is age enduring. To freely give what has been freely received is to experience a bit of heaven on earth. It’s to practice up for a future eternity as we lay “a good foundation” in our current reality.

Those of us who have been graced abundantly upon this earth can know an unearthly dynamic that comes from gracing others. And that’s truly life.

God so loved the world that He gave (Jn. 3:16). How much then can we enter into the experience of mirroring Him as His image bearers when we too give? Freely give. Generously give. Ready, willing, and through His abundant provision, able to give.

Take hold of true life, Paul says, the life that is age enduring.

And do it now! Get a two-fisted grip on it. Look for opportunities to convert the cash in your bank account into care for others, and then you’ll start to know what living for eternity feels like.

O’ that I would truly believe it! O’ that I might actually act upon it! O’ that I would practically experience it!

By His grace. For His glory.

Posted in 1Timothy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Be Shrewd

To start with, he was a lousy manager. Lost track of inventory; couldn’t keep the books; really had very little idea of where the stuff was that he was paid to steward. No wonder he lost his job.

But, he was also too old for hard, physical labor. What’s more, he had a bit of an ego issue–the idea of having to humble himself and seek public assistance for his daily bread sent a shiver down his spine.

And, to top it all off, his moral compass had no true north on it. Having already wasted his master’s possessions through carelessness, with the time he had left in his job he used his master’s business to win over friends and allies through craftiness. He held a private fire sale for a number of his master’s debtors by reducing what they owed by as much as 20 to 50 percent in the hopes of calling in the favor when the time came for him to need a favor in return.

And yet, this is the guy that Jesus points to in His story and says to His disciples, “Hey! Consider him! Be more like him!”

Honestly, you read this parable and it’s a bid of a head-scratcher. The guy’s a crook. An incompetent, proud, crook. And yet the boss in the story, who paid the price for his employee’s incompetence and his crookedness, “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness” (16:8a). So, what’s the point of Jesus’s story?

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

(Luke 16:8b-9 ESV)

Be shrewd. That’s the point.

Jesus wasn’t commending the dishonest manager’s dishonesty. Instead, the story was designed to encourage his followers to be wise. To be prudent. To be thoughtful. To act with intentionality. Mindful of one’s own interests. Planning for the future. In short, to be shrewd.

While he may have only been a so-so steward, the anti-hero of the story aced it when it came to street smarts. He knew that if he used whatever means was at hand (even if it wasn’t his own) to scratch someone else’s back now, he’d have a good shot at someone scratching his back later. He connected the dots between actions now and reward later. So, Jesus holds him up as an example of someone who knew how things worked. Though he was but a “son of this world”, he knew how his world operated. He knew how to plan and invest for his future, even if he had but a limited, temporal, ego-centric view of what that future could be.

Sons of light, says Jesus, would do well to aspire towards modeling the shrewdness of the sons of this world. Not by emulating the dishonest ways of this world, but that they’d benefit from understanding the dynamics of their world, and how the kingdom of light operates.

That the way of the kingdom is to wisely invest now in that which will bring eternal returns later. That sanctified prudence comes from connecting the dots between the opportunity they have on earth to steward temporal treasures, time, and talent in order to store up wealth in heaven which will result in everlasting returns. Understanding why we should wisely, intentionally, purposefully invest now in that which will be used to save sinners and serve saints. Using that which so often corrupts in this world to win that which is incorruptible in the next.

Be shrewd. Know how the kingdom works. Play the long game.

And this too, by His grace, and for His glory.

Posted in Luke | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Robe

His was a riches to rags story. Having demanded his inheritance early, he blew through his inheritance quickly. Not with investing it for future profit, but instead wasting it on foolhardy pleasures. Soon, rather than living high on the hog as he thought he could, he had to move in with the hogs–something he never imagined he would.

So, I’m guessing that on that day when, in humiliation, he walked back onto the family homestead, there may have been a certain air about him. I’m thinking that feeding pigs–maybe even eating with pigs, will, after awhile, rub off on you . . . literally! That eventually, the longer you serve the sty and live in the sty, the more likely you are to smell like the sty.

What’s more, I’m guessing he wasn’t much to look at. No community YMCA for him to take a shower in before he came home. No Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift shops to find some decent clothing to replace the rags he had grown accustomed to wearing. Not much he could do to clean himself up, or cover himself up. Instead, he returned to his father “just as I am.”

And in that condition:

. . . his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. . . . the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.”

(Luke 15:20, 22-23 ESV)

The father would have been justified to stand there and watch as his son crawled toward him on his knees. Instead, the father ran to him.

He could have crossed his arms, leaned back, and determined to wait and see if this apparent show of repentance was real or not. Instead, the father chose to throw his arms around the neck of the prodigal and kiss him.

And then, after receiving back the delinquent, the first thing the father did was something no one expected him to do.  He clothed him.

“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him.”

The first thing the father did was dress his wayward child in the finest garment found in the house. The item in the father’s closet worn by kings, priests, and people of the highest rank. It replaced the rags. It covered the stench. And it commanded the celebration.

After clothing his son in the garment, what followed just made sense. The ring placed on his hand, the family signet of wealth and dignity. The shoes put on his feet, evidence of the freedom that is due sonship, for only slaves went barefoot. And a feast and celebration second to none! Because that’s what putting on your Sunday Best is for.

It all began with the father’s determination to clothe his returning child with the best robe. Not because the son deserved it, but because the father delighted in it.

And isn’t that also the story of this prodigal? Clothed in the best robe?

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

(Isaiah 61:10 ESV)

When by faith I first came to Him reeking of sin’s stench and wearing the filthy rags of my own “righteous deeds” (Isa. 64:6), after receiving me with compassion, open arms, and heaven’s kiss, the Father clothed me in the best robe, the robe of righteousness. Not my own righteousness, but His Son’s.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

(Romans 8:3-4 ESV)

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

(2Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

In Christ we are clothed with the robe of righteousness. His righteousness. The righteousness of God.

And every time I go rogue, as often as I find myself slipping and tripping my way into prodigal propensities, when I come to my senses and return to my Father, without fail He sees still the robe He put on me. He sees me clothed in Christ, His beloved Son. He sees me washed forever in the blood of the Lamb. The stench is gone. The rags replaced. Behold, all things are still new (2Cor. 5:17), and new eternally.

The best robe was the first thing. It is the preeminent thing. The blessing from which all other blessings flow. The undeserved favor upon which all other undeserved favors are given.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness . . .

By His grace alone. For His glory alone.

Posted in Luke | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pursuit and Promise

If there’s anything you take from these opening chapters of Proverbs, it’s that getting wisdom is a result of intentional focus. No one is going to default their way into wisdom. The secrets of skillful living aren’t just accidentally stumbled upon but, instead, diligently pursued. That, apparently, is what David told his son, Solomon.

When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

(Proverbs 4:3-9 ESV)

“Get wisdom,” says he who was king to the one who would be king. Get insight, get understanding, get discernment. Acquire it. Obtain it. Do what you need to do to possess it. Make it your own.

Pursue wisdom as you would pursue your true love. Don’t forget her. Don’t neglect her. Don’t forsake her. But love her. Prize her highly. Embrace her dearly.

A lot of commands to obey there. But what’s clear is that wisdom is to be intentionally, relentlessly run after.

And, what’s equally clear is that, with great pursuit, there is great promise. She will keep you. She will guard you. She will exalt you. She will honor you. She will enhance the royal diadem of any kingdom with an unearthly garland of grace and crown of beauty.

Any wonder then, that after David’s death, when God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask what I shall give you?” (1Kings 3), that Solomon asked not for himself long life, or riches, or military success, but instead asked for “understanding to discern what is right”? Any wonder, too, that it pleased the Lord that Solomon asked this?

And, for much of his life, Solomon would know her pursuit and be blessed by her promise. Tragically though, toward the end of his life he would also know the atrophy of blessing that would result from forgetting her and forsaking her as he was distracted by following after the lesser beauty of others.

So this morning I hear the voice of He who is King saying to this one whom He has made His son, “Get wisdom.”

Go after her, and keep going after her! She is found in My word. And she is realized in My Son.

Love Him, and He will guard you. Prize Him highly, and He will exalt you. Embrace Him relentlessly, and He will honor you. And He will place upon your head His garland of grace and give to you a beautiful and eternal crown of life.

Know afresh that with great pursuit there is great promise.

Found in Christ alone.

By His grace alone.

For His glory alone.

Posted in Proverbs | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

In His Confidence

Something I read in Proverbs this morning has me thinking about the multifaceted nature of the believer’s relationship with the God of heaven and earth.

Multifaceted. I so like that word. Many sided. As in a cut gem. Each face of a diamond, when held up to the light, presenting a distinct, yet equally glorious, array of color and implication. It’s the idea found in Ephesians 3:10 where Paul speaks of the church making known to those in heavenly places the “manifold”, or multifaceted, wisdom of God. And, if you think about it, our relationship to God, and thus our responses toward Him, are multifaceted, as well.

He is the Creator and we are His creation. The awesome, holy, holy, holy God, who allows those less than holy to enter His presence through the blood of sacrifice. Thus, we relate to Him with reverent fear. Falling on our face at the thought of being in His midst. Prostrating ourselves before Him. Unworthy, and feeling almost unable, to behold even the outer edges of His glory. Yet thankful beyond description to touch even the hem of His garment.

He is the Master and we are His slaves. Having been bought with a price, we are no longer our own (1Cor. 6:19-20). He commands the house, we are but vessels in His hands (2Tim. 2:20-21). Our will made subject to His. Our greatest desire in that day to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

He is the Father and we are His children. Born once of a mother’s womb to enter this world, we have been born again of the Spirit to enter the kingdom (Jn 3:5-6). The Spirit, Paul’s says, of adoption. Testifying with our spirit that we are children of God. Giving voice to that familial realty as He prompts us to cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:14-16). Thus, we also relate to this awe-evoking, life-demanding God as a loving, faithful, nurturing, protecting, and providing Father.

And we could go on. But here’s the facet of our relationship with God above all gods that I’m chewing on this morning. The reality that we are in His confidence.

Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in His confidence.

(Proverbs 3:31-32 ESV)

We are in His confidence. Brought into His “secret counsel” (NKJV). With us “He is intimate” (NASB). For those declared “godly” through the finished work of the cross, “He offers His friendship” (NLT). For those made “upright” by the power of His risen life, “He is a friend” (HCSB).

We are in His confidence. Privy to the secret things of God (Matt. 13:11). Brought into divine mysteries hidden since the foundation of the earth now revealed to those who believe (Eph. 1:7-9). The higher ways than our ways, the higher thoughts than our thoughts, made known to us even as we’ve been given the mind of Christ (Isa. 55:9, 1Cor. 2:16).

Sure, sometimes we are to see ourselves in the King’s court, and so we bow. Other times, in the Master’s house, and thus we obey. But let’s not forget the privilege of sitting at the Teacher’s feet, listening and learning as He shares His heart through the the illuminating agency of the Third Person of the Godhead Himself.  And, relishing the one-on-one time with Him, we draw near. We lean in. We enjoy “doing coffee” with Him at our table for two.

We are in His confidence. Unreal.

What grace.

To Him be all the glory.

Amen?

Posted in Proverbs | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment